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5 Artworks Inspired by Literature

There is constant communication between art and literature. Therefore it is no surprise that many of the most well-recognized artists have intertwined the two created fields in their own practices.

Discover below the literary inspirations behind these famous artworks:

Sir John Everett Millais, Ophelia, Oil paint on canvas (1851-1852). Courtesy of the Tate

In the 19th century, artist Sir John Everett Millais depicted a character from Shakespeare’s classic work Hamlet. In this painting, Ophelia lies singing before she drowns in the Danish river. A single red poppy lays next to her to symbolize sleep and death. The pose of Ophelia mimics the portrayal of a martyr or saint. The work was not received with the best of reviews but is now admired for its beautiful depiction of nature and considered a vital piece of mid-nineteenth-century art.

Salvador Dalí, Mad Tea Party (1969). Courtesy of DailyArt

Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí reimagines the psychedelic feel of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland. Within this collection of paintings, the viewer can recognize classic Dalí emblems such as the melting clock. These works are rarely seen but allow the viewer to experience a vibrant, hypnotic collaboration of the literary classic and the artist.

Pablo Picasso, Don Quixote (1955) Courtesy of

Picasso’s simple bold lines stray stylistically from his usual cubist style of work as it depicts Cervantes’ classic work.  In this, the viewer can recognize Don Quixote sitting on his reckless horse, Rocinante staring straight ahead while Panza and donkey, windmills, and blazing sun. This sketch was notably conceived in minutes by the artist and appeared in an issue of the French weekly journal Les Lettres Françaises in 1955, celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Spanish book.

Grace Hartigan, Oranges No. 3 (What Fire Murmurs Its Sedition) Oil on paper. 44 3/4 x 35 1/4 in. Painted in 1953. Courtesy of Christie's

Oranges is a series of twelve paintings produced by Hartigan based on the texts of New York poet Frank O’Hara. Hartigan was among the second generation of abstract artists and after becoming close with O’Hara was inspired to collaborate on this work of 12 poems/12 self-defining paintings.

Rene Magritte, Domain of Arnheim (1962). Image courtesy

In this work, Magritte was inspired by the Edgar Allen Poe story of The Domain of Arnheim. In this dark romantic masterpiece, Poe writes “No such combination of scenery exists in nature as the painter of genius may produce.” Inspired by this, the artist created his own supreme landscape suggesting an inner serenity achieved through nature.



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